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Oct 18, 2004

Fire leaves one dead in Belize City

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It may have been a rainy weekend for many Belizeans but that did not prevent a fatal fire in Belize City. I visited the scene this morning and found that while the embers may have been cooled, emotions have not.

Patrick Jones, Reporting

The early morning fire on Sunday claimed the life of eighteen year old Walter Juvencio Rivera. The grieving mother, Maria Gomez says that she was awakened by the smell of smoke.

Maria Celsa Gomez, Mother

?When I woke up, I realized that there was fire in my son?s room. I heard an explosion in his room; I don?t know what it was. I knocked on the door trying to open it, but it was locked. I could not get the door open. When I could not get the door open, I ran outside to ask for help. I was screaming and asking for help, but no one came to help me.?

Fire Chief Henry Baizar says the call came into the station shortly after three o?clock on Sunday morning and two trucks were scrambled to the scene of the fire at the corner of Hunters Lane and Kelly Street.

Henry Baizar, Fire Chief

?On arrival there they found that fire was already coming out of the windows of the house. So they mount operations on both sides of the building. Two trucks actually almost got there almost simultaneously together; one from south side and one from over here. And as quickly as they could, the brought the fire under control within thirteen minuets and it was a wooden house.?

Officials say that when they arrived on the scene, they were told that there were two children in the burning building, but a quick search did not find anyone. Baizar says it was only after the fire was put out that Rivera?s body was found. While area residents are commending the fire department for containing the blaze to just one building, Rivera?s family claims the firemen did not do all they could have to save the teenager?s life.

Glenda Murcia, Family Friend

?I believe that the firemen could have saved this life but they did not. They did not go into the building to save Walter. It is very hard for us right now to understand how this could have happened. It?s not fair.?

Bernarda Rivera, Walter?s Sister

?They are not trained for going and just throwing water. They are trained for saving life. That?s their job. Their job is not just to go there and stand up and wet the house. My brother could be here right now. He could be here. But he isn?t. I would rather see him in a bed with burns on his skin, but not burned up like that. I mean, I have no words to explain how I feel. All what I know is that it hurts; he?s my first brother. He was so loving; so caring; so honest. And he didn?t deserve to die like that.?

But while that?s the family?s point of view, Baizar says the firemen did exactly what they were supposed to do given the circumstances.

Henry Baizar

?I think they have it the wrong way to be honest. They were there when the fire just started. And they did not get the guy out of the house. When we got there, the fire was already in the house and coming through the windows, so virtually most of the stuff within the house had already burned. When our guys got there, we did not hear any cries. They were saying two children were in the house. We did not. Immediately on arrival there we could not go directly into the house. We had to fight the fire and try to get it under control as quickly as possible and then enter the building.?

Investigators have so far determined that the fire was not caused by an electrical fault but have traced the starting point to the children?s room on the lower flat.

While Maria says that she heard her son calling for help while she was trying to break the door down, the Fire Chief says there are inconsistencies in the stories the family is telling investigators, which raises a lot of questions.

Henry Baizar

?I can?t see how in a real situation where someone is in a building and its burning and you can?t get a door down. I mean, eventually they actually get the door down. I don?t know, it?s probably because–in the hat of fire people do panic–they may loose their composure and I probably think that?s what actually happened.?

?From all indications that we receive from his brother, that he came in drunk and went to sleep, and locked the door and they could not get into the room. But it is strange that his body was not found in his room. His body was found in the mother?s room. How did he get there??

That question, along with how the fire started, will hopefully be answered by the time the investigation ends in a couple of days. Patrick Jones, for News 5.

Associates of the owner report that the two story wooden structure was not insured.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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